Transient small boats as a long-distance coastal vector for dispersal of biofouling organisms
Alaska is at the northern end of an apparent latitudinal trend of decreasing coastal marine introductions on the West Coast of North America. Historical propagule supply may have played a role in forming this trend, but few studies have evaluated propagule supply to northern latitudes. Here, we examined the role of small boat traffic as a mechanism of long-distance spread for nonindigenous species (NIS) into coastal Alaska. We used a combination of public records, marina surveys, and boater interviews to characterize vessel traffic patterns and boater behaviors. In-water SCUBA sampling of recently arrived transient boats provided data on extent, richness, composition, and biogeography of biofouling incursions to Alaska from outside of the state. We documented a striking seasonality and directionality of vessel traffic, and most vessels were on voyages of >900 km. Most transient vessels sampled had few organisms, although one third had >100 organisms on submerged surfaces. Several NIS were recorded, including two that are not known to be established in Alaska (Watersipora subtorquata and Amphibalanus improvisus). The seasonal northward pulse of vessels and their cumulative biofouling species represent an important incursion mechanism for species yet to establish at the northern edge of a marine bioinvasion front in the northeastern Pacific. The low numbers of NIS sampled in this study coincide with the low number of marine NIS known from Alaska, which suggests that an opportunity remains to promote awareness and management of the vector to limit NIS influx to the region. This may be particularly relevant for future scenarios of increased vessel traffic and ocean warming, which are likely to interact to increase establishment success of invaders from the south.